Youngstown State, YHCIL, and Congregation Rodef Sholom
By Hannah Klacik, Graduate Assistant Intern at Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor
A unique collaboration is underway in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown State University’s Applied History Practicum class has partnered with Congregation Rodef Sholom, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Youngstown, Ohio, to create an archival collection. The Practicum course, instructed by Thomas Leary, Director and Professor of the Applied History Program, serves to provide graduate students with practical skills and experience in order to prepare them for future career opportunities in historic preservation, library and archival institutions, museum studies, and more. This semester, Leary is assisted by Martha Bishop, the archives and library assistant at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.
Meetings between Sarah Wilschek, executive director of Rodef Sholom, and Kayla Metzger, the AmeriCorps Ohio History Service Corps member of the YSU History program, led to the partnership. Shortly after Wilschek became the executive director in April 2019, she discovered historical materials in a utility closet downstairs in the 154-year-old temple. Inspired to organize and preserve the congregation’s rich history, the university seemed an appropriate place to start. “I am very excited about this collaboration between the YSU History program, AmeriCorps and Congregation Rodef Sholom. The hands-on experience is so valuable for the graduate students, and the expertise of the faculty and advisors is a huge benefit for organizing, preserving and making accessible over a century and a half of our records and artifacts,” Bethany Goldberg, a trustee and music historian at the temple said in a statement.
Students in the course are gaining invaluable experience while sorting and archiving materials such as membership ledgers, deeds, maps for Congregation Rodef Sholom’s cemeteries, art and photographs, and the original architectural blueprints for the temple by M. Scheible. The archival collections date back to its foundation in 1867 and encompasses material from both Rodef Sholom and Temple Beth Israel following a merger in 2015. I personally have been working to organize and archive their extensive art collection. They have pieces in just about every medium spread throughout the building, making the task challenging, though extremely rewarding! I have especially enjoyed learning about Judaism from Sarah and Bethany and exploring the building. The project is also aided by congregant volunteers, and will pass to other local institutions after the course ends.
Congregation Rodef Sholom is Youngstown’s oldest Jewish congregation, as well as the largest congregation in the area, making the preservation and organization of the materials crucial for future generations to learn about Judaic History in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. “As we dream about and plan for the future of Rodef Sholom and the Jewish community in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, the archive project will provide a better understanding and appreciation of our past and strengthen the foundation upon which we strive to grow and prosper,” said Goldberg. Upon completion, the archives will be accessible to the congregants and the general public at no cost. With the creation of a finding aid, visiting scholars, students, and the public, will be able to learn about the contributions and impacts local congregations have had in the region and greater Judaic community.